What image comes to mind when you think of “Living the Simple Life”? Is it a big, rambling farmhouse, surrounded by acres of fields and meadows? Horses and goats and chickens? A mile-long clothesline with linens blowing in the breeze? An old farm truck sitting in the driveway? A farm wife with her apron strapped on, kneading bread in the kitchen? Would you believe me if I told you that none of these things are necessary for simple living? That’s right, you can start living the simple life RIGHT WHERE YOU ARE. No farm house necessary. All that is needed is a change of mindset.
Do you feel like your current life is not truly making you happy? Like you are on a treadmill, going nowhere – working hard just to pay the bills and buy a few nice things? Well I am here to tell you, there is another way. And you can start right now. TODAY. You can simplify your life, and bring your actions into alignment with your values and your life’s vision.
Simple Living is about providing for your own needs directly. When you work for someone else, you are working for the middle man. You are working a job to earn money, to then turn around and buy the things you need. What if instead, you could provide some those needs directly, rather than working so you can pay someone else to provide them? You work so you can pay someone to sew your clothes for you. To grow your food for you. To do repairs for you. To provide energy in the form of electricity, oil, and gas. Perhaps you are working to pay interest on your debts. Or to pay your mortgage. What if you grew some of your own food and sewed your own clothes (or at least bought them second hand)? How much money would that save you? What if you learned to do your own repairs? What if you used tools and equipment that used your own energy rather than that of fossil fuels? (A reel mower, a clothes line, and a wood stove are just a few examples). What if you were debt-free, including your mortgage? How much money would you need to live? Could you get by with just working part-time, or maybe switching jobs altogether to something that pays less but makes you happier?
I live in a small (1,000 square foot) 1950s brick bungalow on a 1/8 acre lot in a small city (population less than 50,000). We bought the house two years ago, but have been baby-stepping our way to simple living for several years now. Although I still have many steps to take, I thought I would share with you my list of ways you can start living the simple life right where you are. To make it easier, I will break it up into categories.
1. Start a garden, no matter how small. I started with some old pots I found, filled them with dirt, and planted tomatoes and cucumbers. We have now graduated to 4 raised beds, with plans to add 4 more. The point is, start with something. Grow some herbs on your windowsill. Get a packet of mixed lettuce seeds and plant them in a pot on your step. Grow SOMETHING. Anything. There – you have just taken your very first step toward self-reliance. 🙂
2. Learn to cook from scratch. If you’re used to purchasing pre-made foods, try to cook one meal a week completely from scratch. Use whole ingredients – veggies and meat – avoid anything with an ingredient list.
3. Start paying attention to where your food comes from. Next time you are at the grocery store, note where your produce is grown before putting it in your cart. Bananas from Costa Rica are ok. Tomatoes? Not so much. Just being aware is the first step toward making a change.
4. Check out your local farmer’s market. Find out what days they are open, and go there. 🙂 Wander around, see what the offerings are (hint: this is the best way to eat seasonal foods!), and introduce yourself to the farmers. 🙂 You know, the people who grow the food. You don’t get to do that at the grocery store!
5. Start phasing out processed foods. Each time you run out of something pre-made, think about whether you can make it yourself. (Hint: You can). Pretty much anything you can buy, you can make. 🙂 You don’t have to do it all at once, but start thinking about it at least. Even condiments are easily made from scratch. They are cheaper, healthier, and will only take a few minutes of your time.
6. Buy food in bulk. Whatever is in season, buy lots of it. Can it, freeze it, store it. You will cut your grocery bill in half.
7. Give up your dryer. Get yourself a (good quality) indoor drying rack. Take those clothes out of the washing machine, give them a good snap, and hang them up to dry. Last I checked, air was free. 🙂 That dryer is just very expensive air. No, your clothes won’t be dry in an hour, but if you do a load every day, yesterday’s load will be dry by the time you are ready to hang today’s. Do you have a place to install an outdoor clothesline? Or maybe you are super lucky and your house already has one? Lucky you, you can get the fresh air scent for FREE!! 🙂 And outdoors your clothes will be dry in just a few hours.
8. Oil Lamps. Get some. You can find them in all kinds of places – at yard sales, in antique shops, thrift stores, auctions. Get yourself a few and learn how to use them. Yes you will have to buy oil and wick but at least you aren’t giving your money to your electricity company. 🙂
9. Start paying attention to all the gadgets you plug in. What did people do before they had those gadgets? Are there non-electric alternatives?
10. Replace your coffee maker with a kettle and french press.
11. Replace your electric mixer with one of those hand mixers, easily found at any thrift store.
12. Learn to shop for second hand clothes. This is especially helpful for kids who grow so quickly!! Start asking around and find out which thrift stores are good. I have a favourite one that we stop at almost weekly to see what they have.
13. Mend and make do – often times clothes just need a little repair job, and then they will be as good as new. A patched knee, a sewn button or a repaired zipper can give clothing another lease on life. Learning to do these simple repairs is as easy is going to YouTube and finding some videos. Even though I can sew I often still do this if I’m feeling unsure about something!
14. Reduce the amount of clothing you have. You’ll be amazed how much this one step will simplify your life. Less laundry, less clothing on the floor, less things to take care of and keep tidy, less overwhelming choices for both you and your children. We really need very little clothing!
Rhythm & Home
15. Create daily, weekly, and seasonal rhythms for your home. This will drastically simplify your life.
16. Reduce clutter, making it easier to maintain your home.
17. “A place for everything, and everything in its place”. When everyone knows exactly where things go, it is SO MUCH EASIER to tidy up (and to keep things tidy). I repeat this mantra several times a day. 🙂
18. Reduce your waste. This is good for the environment, but also hugely helpful in terms of simplifying your life – less garbage coming into your house means less garbage you have to take out! Achieving zero waste begins before you even leave your house to go grocery shopping – making sure you have all the bags and containers necessary to bring your purchases home without packaging.
19. Consider homeschooling your children. This simplifies SO many things. Not only that, but they are able to learn a lot of these skills because they are home with me.
20. Never stop learning! I love to learn – I love to take out library books and read about new skills.
21. Frequent your library. There are thousands of books there, FREE for the borrowing. So much information at our fingertips.
Personal Care & Cleaning
22. Learn to make your own personal care and cleaning products. Basic ingredients like essential oils, vinegar, baking soda, coconut oil, olive oil and beeswax are all you need! Once you have these basic items on hand, the sky is the limit. It’s so freeing to not have to go down the personal care or cleaning product aisle at the grocery store. When I run out of something, I just make more. 🙂 I have even learned how to make my own soap in a crock pot, using just 3 ingredients.
23. Be proactive about your health. Stay healthy by eating whole foods, avoiding toxins, and arming yourself with natural remedies like garlic, chicken broth, herbs, and essential oils.
24. Use Cash. Try to avoid using plastic to pay for your purchases. Using real, actual cash makes it easier to see exactly how much your are spending and how much you have left to spend. I highly recommend the envelope method for budgeting!
25. Avoid debt. If you are only using cash, this should be easy – but in general it is much easier to live simply if you stay out of debt (or get out of debt if you already have some). I realize this is easier said than done, but being debt-free gives you the freedom to make choices.
I hope this gives you some ideas for ways you can begin simplifying your life. These are just a few suggestions, but really, the sky is the limit! The secret is to just pick something and start. Learning to live more simply is not a step backward. It’s stepping forward in learning to provide for your own needs, and putting you back in the driver’s seat of your life. It’s about relying less on corporations and more on your own skills to provide for the needs of your family.
What things do you do in order to live more simply? If you try any of these things, I would love to hear how you make out! Let me know in the comments below.